For Daphne Maxwell, working with husband Tim Reid on the CBS Tuesday night series Frank’s Place has been, well, an undertaking. It’s not that Reid, the show’s star and co-creator, is an unreasonable boss exactly. It’s just that here he is, calling the shots on his own show at last, and he casts his wife—his wife—as a mortician. Reid takes top billing in the role of Frank Parrish, brainy Boston professor-turned-New Orleans restaurateur, while Maxwell makes do as a handler of stiffs.
“This was meant to be Tim’s show,” says Maxwell, currently on the road with Reid promoting the series. Back in L.A., “we don’t even go to work together. I go in an hour and a half earlier for my makeup and hair, and I usually get finished before he does. I have to maintain my independence or else I’d be sitting around the set a lot, and I have other things to do.”
On and off the set, in fact, life for Reid and Maxwell is as much a seesaw act as the yin and yang symbols that are embossed on their gold medallions and printed on their stationery. “He’s good at big things; I’m good at details,” says Maxwell, 39. “He’s where you go in a catastrophe.”
“She’s where you go if you want the plumbing fixed,” says Reid, 43. “And she’s outgoing; I’m introverted. She gives me balance.”
When they first met in 1972, while making a Sears commercial in Chicago, both were already married and had three children between them. “I remember Tim as this kind of square dude who wore plaid suits,” says Maxwell, “and he saw me as this very married lady who looked very frumpy.” By 1979 Maxwell had divorced and, leaving her son with her ex-husband, moved to Los Angeles in search of an acting career. A mutual friend fixed her up with Reid, also divorced and appearing as superdude deejay Venus Flytrap on WKRP in Cincinnati. “We had a five-minute look-see date that stretched into five hours,” says Maxwell.
Reid, who soon began sharing a house with Maxwell, scripted her into a couple of WKRP episodes. “It was hard acting together at first because Tim didn’t have confidence in my work,” remembers Maxwell.
Counters Reid: “What I saw was eagerness and raw talent. I stayed on her until she finally took acting, voice and singing lessons.” His Airedale, Rags, spent most of the next 2½ years listening to the couple storm at each other. “We fought about everything,” says Reid. “We were fearful of not having a commitment, and we were fearful of having one.” Finally Reid walked out and headed to Europe. Ten days later Maxwell flew to New York and surprised him as he got off the return plane. He proposed in customs, and five months later in December 1982, they were wed. Marriage made “a big, cataclysmic change,” Maxwell says. “Everybody relaxed. Once we were committed, there was no reason to argue any more.”
Growing up in Norfolk, Va., Reid had seen plenty of marital battles as a child. His parents had separated before he was born. He was raised at first by his mother, a domestic, but when he was 4, she married a laborer with a bent toward abusiveness. “I vividly remember my mother being attacked by her husband,” says Reid. At 9, he moved in with his grandmother, who ran a local boarding house. “She was very strong, a mixture of Annie Oakley and Ma Barker,” Reid says. “But there was a rough bunch of people hanging around. The environment was not conducive to the best kind of parental guidance.”
By 13, Reid was “a frightened kid running with the wrong group,” he says, when his natural father stepped in to take over. After squeaking through high school, Tim entered the all-black Norfolk branch of Virginia State College as a probationary student. He dabbled in theater and was active in the civil rights movement, got married during his senior year, and graduated with a degree in business administration. Recruited by Du Pont, he moved to the company’s Chicago office in 1968 with his wife, Rita, and son, Tim Jr., now 21. Three years later daughter Tori was born.
Boredom—and an ulcer—eventually prompted a job change. Concerned about his children, Reid began taking part in drug programs in local schools, where he met a young white insurance agent named Tom Dreesen. Told by their listeners that they were funny, the duo gradually evolved into a comedy team billed as Tim and Tom. Their act lasted for six years and then folded, as Reid’s marriage did shortly after. Dreesen went on to success as a solo act while Reid went to actors’ school, worked as a comedian in a topless bar (“that really depressed me”) and eventually landed a TV role on a Frankie Avalon summer series. Then in 1978 he found his niche on WKRP.
By the standards of Reid’s childhood, Maxwell’s was close to idyllic. The daughter of a Manhattan housewife and a drugstore short-order cook, she attended the prestigious Bronx High School of Science during the week and the Group Theater Workshop on weekends. At Northwestern, she majored in interior design and architecture, became the school’s first black homecoming queen and worked part-time as a Ford agency model. Married in 1968, she appeared on the cover of Glamour in 1969, graduated the next year, and in 1971 gave birth to her son, Christopher.
After her divorce and her move to L.A., Maxwell began scrapping for TV parts in shows like Hardcastle & McCormick and The A-Team (and even appeared in one episode as Mr. T’s sweetheart). Reid, meanwhile, suffered through WKRP’s demise in 1982, then rebounded as Downtown Brown, the wry undercover cop on Simon & Simon. During Reid’s four-year run, Maxwell appeared in 18 episodes as Temple Hill, the TV reporter who was Reid’s on-screen love interest.
During a break in a tennis match, Reid and WKRP creator Hugh Wilson came up with the skeletal idea for a series set in the South, CBS came up with the New Orleans setting, and Frank’s Place began taking shape. Maxwell’s part on the show was an afterthought. Reid and Wilson had taken a scouting trip to New Orleans to soak up the city’s jazz, crawfish and Creole soul before production began. Initially thinking that Reid’s character was going to inherit a funeral home, they visited a mortuary and asked to meet the head embalmer. “We were expecting to see Boris Karloff,” says Reid, “and out came an attractive black woman. Hugh looked at me and said, ‘Daphne?’ That’s how we came to hire her.”
Reid’s work on the show, as both star and co-executive producer, makes for 14-hour days and an abbreviated home life. With the couple’s time together at a premium during shooting, Maxwell alternates between her roles as actress and wife, stocking Reid’s dressing room refrigerator and preparing a home-cooked meal on the infrequent nights he’s home for dinner. Two years ago the couple moved into a nine-room, ranch-style Encino home that they have gutted and largely redecorated. The maid’s quarters were turned into a sewing room for Maxwell, an accomplished seamstress, and the swimming pool was shortened to accommodate Reid’s office. “Nobody in California ever had their pool shortened,” says Reid with a laugh. “One guy I called hung up on me; he thought I was a practical joker. Another guy came over just to see what we looked like.”
During the endless renovations, Maxwell played general contractor while Reid helped the workers. “The workmen would never come to me,” he notes. “They’d say, ‘I’ve got a problem. I want to talk to your wife.’ I’d say, ‘What is it? You can tell me.’ They’d answer, ‘She knows; you don’t.’ ”
The marriage fortunately survived. “This is some kind of woman here,” marvels Reid. “She’s the kind that could be standing in a ballroom in a beautiful gown, and all of a sudden she pulls up her skirts and is wearing cowboy boots, ready to go.” Maxwell scoffs at the notion and in a wispy, little-girl voice facetiously demolishes the image. “Now I’ve dedicated my life to being a princess,” she says.
Yang, meet Yin.
—By Mary Vespa, with Lois Armstrong in Los Angeles